Archaeology: Blagoevgrad mayor calls for diversion of Struma Motorway to preserve Skaptopara site

The mayor of Blagoevgrad, Atanas Kambitov, has come out in support of calls for the re-routing of Struma Motorway to prevent the destruction of the ancient site of Skaptopara, forerunner of the modern-day town.

“Blagoevgrad municipality stands behind the idea of ​​preserving the archaeological finds in their authentic form,” said Kambitov, now in his second term as mayor. A former municipal councillor on the ticket of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party, Kambitov was an MP in the 41st National Assembly before twice winning election as mayor on a GERB ticket, the second time with a first-round win.

Planned to be 86km long, when completed Struma Motorway will link Pernik, about 35km from capital city Sofia, with the Kulata checkpoint at Bulgaria’s border with Greece.

Ahead of the construction of the section near Blagoevgrad, workers and archaeologists have made a number of significant discoveries at the site, from the Thracian era and tombs – including one that is nearly intact, complete with its contents – from the Roman era.

Residents of Blagoevgrad are calling for a referendum on diverting the motorway to preserve the site. A Bulgarian expatriate in Germany, Daniel Dimov, has been running an online campaign to prevent the Skaptopara site’s destruction. Mayor Kambitov’s statement was issued on the eve of the latest local protest in defence of the site.

The mayor of Blagoevgrad, Atanas Kambitov.

The municipal council is to consider at a meeting on May 11 whether to call a referendum.

A committee of experts from the Ministry of Culture is to inspect the site and recommend either to preserve it, or to allow the motorway construction to go ahead after the most valuable archaeological finds have been moved. In the latter case, Skaptopara will end up under asphalt.

Local calls for the preservation may not find sympathy among all Bulgarians. Prominent media coverage was given to a statement on April 29 by Regional Development and Public Works Minister Nikolai Nankov that diverting the route of the Struma Motorway would delay construction by two years.

Speaking during a visit to Blagoevgrad (not to visit the site but to hand out the prizes in a motor race), Nankov said: “We do not want the two interests to clash – the rapid construction of the motorway, and the preservation, exposure and public showing of the valuable finds from the ancient Roman city”.

Nankov, who is from the GERB majority quota in Borissov’s third government, said that more than eight million leva (about four million euro) had been provided for archaeological research along the Blagoevgrad – Krupnik and Kresna – Sandanski sections of Struma Motorway. These archaeological surveys were going extremely well and were on schedule, he said.

He said that he had was in constant contact with Minister of Culture Boil Banov.

“I, as an ordinary person and not an expert on the topic, would normally heed the voice of the experts,” Nankov said.

He said that that he would comply with the opinion of the academic community.

Regional Development Minister Nankov, centre, during his April 29 visit to Blagoevgrad.

“I will fully trust the opinion of the Director of the National Archaeological Institute at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences – Associate Professor Lyudmil Vagalinski, as well as that of the other experts,” Nankov said.

He noted that two Roman tombs had found during the dig in the area of ​​Pokrovnik village. The first had been robbed in the Middle Ages, and the exhibits from the second one are in the Regional History Museum in Blagoevgrad for conservation.

“It is good that such milestones are found in the construction of highways…we would hardly have come across anything like this if there was no Struma Motorway,” he said.

Nankov said that he would visit the site of the archaeological excavations and that he would visit again, together with Banov, after the expert group made a recommendation about the site.

After the experts had spoken, the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works would be ready to provide finance, whatever the decision, he said.

Nankov said that diverting the route would postpone completion by two years, and during that time, the problem of intense traffic on Kresna Gorge and other busy stretches on the road south to Greece would persist.

(Main photo: bTV)



The Sofia Globe staff

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